Tourism professionals from northern Greece say that the sector is going through its worst crisis in 30 years because of the international economic slowdown and the war on Iraq, and accuse the government of doing little to help. Sixteen local tourism associations in northern Greece, the Greek Association of Hotel Owners and and Hellenic Chamber of Hotels yesterday finished a joint meeting in Halkidiki, northern Greece. The participants agreed that business during the first two months of the year was down from 20 to 40 percent, according to locality. Even if these first two months are low season, tourism professionals are worried about a lackluster high season, as well. «Those responsible (in government) seem to believe that tourism can keep going on automatic pilot,» said Anastassios Andreadis of the Greek Association of Hotel Owners, who took the initiative for the meeting. One of the pressing problems the sector faces is the delay in launching the Greek National Tourism Organization’s (GNTO) promotional campaign. Another, according to Andreadis, is the lack of any cooperation with regional authorities. «The regions have a lot of money available but they do not conduct a proper campaign. They just send their own friends on junkets abroad,» says Andreadis. Regions, in contrast to elected municipalities and prefectures, are administered by government appointees. Northern Greece has an additional problem: It is more heavily dependent than the rest of the country on incoming tourists from Eastern Europe. However, there are often problems with issuing visas to Eastern Europeans and tourism professionals accuse Greek embassies and consulates of incompetence, if not worse. «How come the Spanish and the Portuguese can issue visas (to Eastern Europeans) in two or three days and we take more than a month? There is something fishy going on here and no solution is being provided; the permanent excuse is lack of personnel. There are under-the-table dealings going on and enormous vested interests that do not wish to see a solution to this problem,» says Andreadis. Other problems that tourism professionals say impede progress is the delay in building connecting highways with Balkan countries, the lack of investment related to 2004 Olympics in regions outside Athens, and the delay in harmonizing the hotel classification system with the internationally prevalent star system.